Police on guard against ‘lone wolf individuals’ as protest convoy arrives in Ottawa

Ottawa’s police chief says officials are on guard against “social media actors” and “lone wolf individuals” who might try to infiltrate this weekend’s protests against COVID-19 vaccine mandates.

Members of a protest organizers call the Freedom Convoy steadily streamed into the nation’s capital Friday as various groups from across the country prepared to rally against the federal government’s vaccination mandate for all cross-border drivers, which came into effect earlier this month.

At least hundreds more were expected throughout the day and over the weekend, with Ottawa police chief Peter Sloly saying authorities weren’t sure how large the rally would be.

A count by Kingston Police Friday morning had 17 tractor trailers and 104 tractors without trailers, along with more than 400 passenger vehicles and six RVs, leaving the city en route to the capital. Kingston is about 174 kilometers southwest of Ottawa.

Protesters gather on Parliament Hill in Ottawa Friday. A large number of people are expected to descend on the city to protest vaccine mandates for truck drivers and other public health measures. (Felix Desroches / Radio-Canada)

Sloly said residents and visitors should expect a large police presence across the city, but especially in downtown, with officers in uniform and plain clothes.

“The demonstrations this weekend will be unique, fluid, risky and significant,” Sloly said at a news conference Friday morning.

Organizers promised peaceful demonstrations

Police and intelligence officials are also keeping a close eye on parallel demonstrations and are expected to film the weekend’s events, but police said they have been unable to connect with most of the organizers.

While the protests are national in scope and massive in scale, Sloly said, they are also “polarizing in nature” and come with “significant risks.”

WATCH: Ottawa police warn people to avoid downtown core this weekend:

Ottawa police warn people to avoid downtown core this weekend

Ottawa police chief Peter Sloly said the demonstrations against vaccine mandates for truck drivers that are expected to happen in the city this weekend will require a large-scale response from police to ensure safety. He advised Ottawa residents and visitors to limit any business they have in the downtown area over the weekend. 1:01

Sloly said organizers of the main convoy have promised that demonstrations will be peaceful but that there have been various online threats locally, nationally and internationally inciting violence, hate and criminal acts.

“We do not know all the parallel demonstrations that may occur and / or the lone-wolf individuals who may insert themselves into the mix for various reasons,” Sloly said.

At least one vehicle flying a confederate flag was seen driving around the city’s downtown Friday. The flag of the southern states whose secession set off the American Civil War has been taken up by some white supremacist groups.

People wave flags as a truck participating in a cross-country convoy protesting a federal vaccine mandate for truckers makes its way along Highway 416 in Ottawa, Friday. (Justin Tang / The Canadian Press)

Chief says police can not ignore hate rhetoric, threats

Some of the hateful rhetoric over public health measures has been ongoing since the start of the pandemic, Sloly said, and directed at local, provincial and federal politicians, including Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson.

Ottawa police say they have yet to receive a direct threat assessment for any group that’s coming to the capital.

“We can not, however, ignore the rhetoric,” Sloly said. “We can not ignore the direct hate language and threats, and we can not ignore the direct attempts to incite violence and criminality in and around the demonstration.”

Supporters cheer on truck drivers in the convoy headed for Ottawa from an overpass in Kingston, Ont., On Friday. (Lars Hagberg / The Canadian Press)

He also said he recognizes that comparisons to the events in Washington, DC, last January, when a mob stormed the US Capitol, will likely be on the minds of many. He said he believes Canadians will behave better.

“We have every confidence in the world that the vast majority of people who are choosing to come to this city, or who live in this city and choose to participate in some form or other in the demonstrations, will do so as Canadians do: lawfully , peacefully and with respect to everybody, “said Sloly.

A person holds a Canadian flag and points to a sign before the departure of a protest convoy from Kingston to Ottawa on Friday morning. (Lars Hagberg / The Canadian Press)

Yet, he reiterated that police are prepared to arrest, charge and prosecute any individuals or groups who incite violence or commit crimes, whether intended or spontaneous.

Police closed several roads throughout downtown Ottawa on Friday to prepare for the protesters and more roads were expected to be closed as the convoy grew in the capital.

A truck towing a boat inscribed with the words ‘Sink All Mandates’ makes its way along Highway 416. (Justin Tang / The Canadian Press)

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